The sexual-orientation binarism: is it dissolving?
Many of my contemporaries who grew up in the middle of the previous century reported that this choice reflected their experience. Their consciousness either told them that they belonged with the heterosexual majority, or that they would need to negotiate the complex trajectory of affirming a homosexual identity. One could not simply be a "humansexual."
Interestingly enough, a challenge to this binary system was proffered by Alfred Kinsey and his associates at the very same period (beginning in 1948, in fact). Kinsey proposed a spectrum of sexual experience, ranging from O (completely directed to the other sex) to 6 (directed exclusively to one's own sex). Kinsey believed that the terms "heterosexual" and "homosexual" should never be used as nouns, only as adjectives and adverbs. While the Kinsey publications had a beneficial effect in showing how varied the sexual experiences of Americans were, this evidence did not, by and large, succeed in overturning the binary model.
To be sure, the concept of bisexuality came into play. Yet many doubted the fact that this was a genuine orientation, pointing out that many who start out in youth as bi tend to gravitate in later life to one or the other pole, straight or gay. At all events, recognizing the autonomy of the bisexual orientation would merely substitute a trichotomy for the dichotomy, leaving no real conceptual space for the more fluid Kinsey model to take hold.
Recently, though, there are indications that the sense of rigid separation of orientations may be breaking down. This evidence comes from a world that many would prefer not to admit having any knowledge of (but are mostly actually lying), that is, the world of pornography.
This development has been highlighted by the latest version of a popular MTV series, the Real World, a sort of reality series in which a group of young people are filmed interacting in a large apartment that they share. One of the current young men, Dustin Zito, is a 24 year-old Louisiana native with an embarrassing background. It seems that he had appeared in public before at a gay website called FratPad. Although I have not visited this site, it seems that the young Dustin performed as both the penetrator and penetratee in acts of anal sodomy. Now it seems he has a girl friend. Was he gay first, and now has turned straight? Or did he just do it for the money? Well, there is money too, more of it, with MTV. It might be, though, that he fits the pattern of of the elusive "humansexual" type.
Recently a friend gave me a DVD entitled "Broke Straight Boys," adapted from a website of the same name. The formula is always the same: two young men, who ostensibly have never had any homosexual experience, are invited to take a "screen test." They quickly get naked and, in exchange for a relatively small amount of $$, do the most unusual things. In all likelihood, most had "tried" such experiences before. But does this mean that these actors are just gay men pretending to be straight? I don't think so.
Reports are that in the main branch of the gay porno industry, where feature films are made, many of the actors are straight. After a hard day at work, they go home to their wives and girlfriends, who are in many cases happy that their guys are not seeing another woman.
All of this suggests that men--and surely women too--are much more versatile in their sexual choices than the old binary (or even ternary) models had stipulated. Stay tuned, as they say, while these matters develop further.
UPDATE. I am reproducing the interesting comments of Thomas Kramer, which for some reason did not appear in the Comments section as they should have.
"I also noticed that the comments of the MTV "Real World" show cast members strictly assumed that any past homosexual behavior by Dustin made him "not straight" or at best "bisexual." it seems that to be a heterosexual today, you must meet a purity test of having never had a gay thought.
"I doubt individual humans will ever break their biased habit of categorizing others into being straight or gay, and the categories of the male or female sex. However, I agree that there will be a growing acceptance for the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are continuous variables, which include bisexuals as well as gender variant or intersex individuals. (Of course, these continuous variables are not evenly distributed and they have clusters at either end of their statistical distributions. -- Statisticians would call them a bimodal or multi-modal distribution.)
"Kinsey was a good scientist who carefully stated that his data applied only to "homosexual behavior" and not homosexual orientation or identity. This is why Kinsey intentionally included the words "Sexual Behavior" in his book title.
"A careful reading of Kinsey also reveals that he identified about 2 percent of humans who report asexual behavior. Corroborating this data is a recent "gay sheep" research study at Oregon State University that also found a similar percentage of asexual sheep in the flock.
"I've become interested in why the socially constructed concept of bisexual humans is universally acknowledged, but the concept of an asexual orientation is rarely accepted. This is probably because most people think that an asexual orientation is impossible. (I thought this also until a personal experience convinced me that asexuality, not being sexually aroused by anything, is not the same thing as impotence, which is the inability to perform sexually and orgasm.)
"Kinsey likewise carefully avoided the conflation of homosexual behavior with gender behavior, such as limp wrists or wearing makeup and dresses. We all know heterosexual drag queens that are similar to the straight "gay for pay" porn boys. Kinsey did not fully address the other false dichotomy of male versus female sex and gender identity because gender identity and intersex conditions were not well studied until decades later.
"I have more thoughts and links to video of this MTV Real World show in my blog post:
Thomas Kraemer, "MTV Real World 'gay for pay' cast member comes out," posted Apr. 29, 2010."
The reaction by some hostile individuals to Zito's early performance to the effect that he must be gay reflects that common perception that two or three same-sex experiences prove that a person is gay. This is akin to the old racist notion that a "single drop of African blood" made one black. Curiously enough, a version of this concept seems to have been adopted by some, beginning with the redoubtable Peter Thatcher, that Malcolm X must have been gay. In fact, Manning Marable's new biography confirms that in his early years Malcolm probably assisted a wealthy white businessman to achieve sexual relief by pouring talcum powder on his naked body. Apparently, there was no touching. This hardly made Malcolm gay. I suppose the claim might be more persuasive had Malcolm X sought the experience, but in fact it was the other way around. This tendency shows a curious convergence between the homophobic position and the gay-advocacy one, both holding that one or two experiences "prove" that one is homosexual.
That said, there is some evidence, as seen in the Down Low phenomenon, that some black men are more sexually malleable than white men in general.
Or perhaps white men are now following suit. If one enjoys the experience of being fellated, does it really matter whether the fellator is a a man or woman? All that should be important is whether the performer does it well. For some straight men, though, it still does matter, as seen by the episodes in the Baitbus internet series.
At one time, I subscribed to the "gay for pay" thesis--that is, that these men were just opportunists doing it for the money (broke straight boys). Now I am less sure, for it may be that some who "get sucked into it" in this fashion may find that it is not so bad after all, and be willing to repeat. To be sure, we are a long way from the utopia posited by Woody Allen, who is alleged to have observed that bisexuality is great because it doubles your chances of getting a date on Saturday nigh.
In jails and prisons, men who were previously heterosexual adapt to a gay lifestyle--of a sort. The conventional wisdom is that after these dudes are released they become wholly straight again. There is evidence that not all of them do, however. In a few cases they have reunited with their hook-up partners inside.
Labels: sexual orientation